He and his wife, Sue, could have cashed in and made a small fortune by selling the three acres of land. However, he had a less lucrative but far more satisfying idea.
“We'd lived in our house for 21 years and brought our two sons up there but it was far too big for just two of us,” says Howard. “I didn't want to move because the location is fantastic. It's quiet with great views but it is within walking distance of the town centre. Then it occurred to me that we could use the grounds to build a property to downsize into.”
The result is an exciting and contemporary “Grand Design” by award-winning architect Ric Blenkharn.
“A developer wanted to build a series of villas and apartments in our paddocks and there would've been five town houses where our new house is. I am very glad I never pursued that because we love this house and our grandchildren still have the paddocks and grounds to play in,” says Howard, who faced a long fight to get what he wanted.
He assumed that because his grounds were effectively infill land between Malton tennis club, a railway cutting and his existing home, planning permission would be straightforward.
The planning authority thought differently as the plot had not been included in the area's Local Plan, which identifies land for development.
The ensuing planning battle took three years and involved fighting the council's bid to make him pay £70,000 through a Section 106 agreement, but Howard's determination paid off. He finally got the go-ahead, minus the Section 106, after hiring planning consultant Janet O'Neill.
The design of the property is based on a small development of four contemporary houses on Middlecave Road in Malton that Ric Blenkharn designed in 2004.
“Howard was keen to have something similar,” says Ric. “So we took the basic plan of one of the Middlecave Road houses and adapted it to his site.”
The construction is of ashlar stone with a steel roof and the property is set over three floors. There is a semi open-plan living space and entrance hall on the ground floor where the sitting, kitchen and dining area have been cleverly zoned using different ceiling heights and a part dividing wall.
On the first floor, there are three en-suite bedrooms and on the top floor there is a sensational master suite. There's also an attached garage.
Large areas of glazing give optimum natural light and make the most of the views.
“The house is set at the back of the site at the highest level so that it maximises the south-facing views across to the Wolds at the front,” says Ric. “The ground floor includes a double-height living space designed to give great views across to the tree canopy of the former quarry at the rear.”
The best long-range views are from the main bedroom suite, which is why Ric designed a recessed terrace on the top floor. “The house is a bold contemporary statement yet sympathetic to the scale and materiality of nearby buildings,” he adds.
It took 18 months to build and the main contractors were Derwent Vale from Malton. The Johnsons' sons, James, who runs JMJ electrics, and Oliver, a heating and plumbing engineer who runs OJ Gas Services, were also involved.
Howard wanted to make the house as energy-efficient as possible and it now costs very little to run thanks to an air- source heat pump, extra insulation, solar panels, a mechanical heat recovery and ventilation system and triple glazing.
The overall budget was extended by 20 per cent and part of that went on a smart home automation system, an audio-visual system, the hard and soft landscaping, marble flooring downstairs and a German front door that cost £10,000.
“I could've wired the house for £30,000 but I spent £120,000 and I don't regret it. I put my heart and soul and every penny I had into the house. I took the view that I'm never going to build my own home again and I wanted to get it right,” says Howard, who was also the dominant force when it came to the interior design.
Sue, a chef, was happy to let him specify almost everything as long as the kitchen had everything she needed. The units are by Hormann and were from Kutchenhaus in York. “It's perfect and I knew it would be,” she says.
“I am a perfectionist and as we were still living next door I was able to be on site every day. I was a very demanding customer,” says Howard, a former coal importer who part-owns the Eden Camp tourist attraction, which was founded by his father.
While the property is admired by architecture enthusiasts and the Johnsons love it, it isn't a conventional downsizers' dream home.
“It's definitely not an old people's bungalow. The plan to downsize went a bit awry,” laughs Howard, who didn't scrimp on the square footage after deciding that bigger would be better.
He and Sue have, however, future-proofed their house against old age with extra-wide doorways for wheelchair access and a lift. The old family home has also been put to good use as their son and his family have moved there.
“It took a long time to get what we wanted but it has been worth the wait,” says Howard. “We love the house and it is our forever home.”